Tag Archives: Atonement

He Takes Away the Sins of the World

John 1:29 “The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

The last time we looked at John 1:29, we focused on the OT allusion in the passage wherein John the Baptist referred to the Lord Jesus Christ as the “Lamb of God.”  We saw how through typology, we can better understand the relationship between the OT institutions, such as Passover and the sacrificial lamb, and the NT greater Sacrifice, the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ.  In this post, we’ll look at the second half of John’s declaration “who takes away the sins of the world.”

There are essentially 3 conclusions that are typically arrived at in a passage like this.  The first, and perhaps most obvious, is the universality of the language, i.e. “of the world.”  Those who hold to this universal view would conclude that this passage promotes and teaches universalism, or the belief that everyone will ultimately be saved and that Jesus has indeed taken away the sins of every single individual without exception.

The second conclusion is that the passage speaks of universality, i.e. all without exception, but that the language needs to be qualified to include application or effectiveness restricted to only those who believe.  In other words, Christ died for everyone without exception, but the application of His salvation is only made to those who believe in Him.

The third conclusion is that world here does not refer to everyone without exception, but instead refers to everyone without distinction.  Rather than limit the effectiveness of Christ’s saving work, those who hold to this position limit the extent of Christ’s atonement to the elect, though see it extending to people from “every tribe, tongue, and nation”, i.e. the world (see Rev. 5:9).

Summarizing, the popular views are: 1) Universalism, i.e. all people everywhere all time will be saved 2) Christ died for all people and all people have had their sins removed by Him, but the effectiveness of Christ’s saving work is only actualized through faith.  3) The effectiveness of Christ’s atonement is not restricted in power, but is instead limited in extent to the elect, though the elect will be comprised of people from every tongue, nation, and tribe.  Which view then is correct?

First we must deal with the theory of universalism.  If this were the correct view, we could toss out any notion of divine punishment; in other words, there would be no hell because there would be no one deserving of hell, because all had been atoned for by Christ on the cross.  I hope it should be obvious how patently unbiblical this view is and how it assaults the very nature of the Gospel by denying the substitution of Christ in the place of sinners, suffering the very punishment that they deserved and satisfying the wrath of God.  It also denies the reality of hell, of which Jesus speaks most prominently.  It is for good reason that the view of universalism has been condemned as heresy since the early church.

Secondly, and perhaps more popularly, is the view that, by necessity, limits the effectiveness of Christ’s atoning work, because it views Christ’s atonement having been extended to all people without exception, but that it has no effect until a person believes.  We must ask then, particularly on the basis of this passage from John 1:29, but more broadly on the pages of the rest of God’s Holy Word, is this the correct view?

Remember in the last post we saw the OT connection to the Passover sacrifice;  now, we must again keep in mind the OT sacrificial system that God instituted to Israel under Levitical law.  These sacrifices, made throughout the year, really culminated in an annual sacrifice known as The Day of Atonement.  You can read more about that here and here.  Recall that in the description of this sacrifice from Leviticus 16 we find the high priest’s requirement to bring before God two goats over whom the priest would cast lots to determine which goat was sacrificed and which goat was set free into the wilderness, i.e. the scapegoat.  In those previous posts we noted the dual nature of atonement that was typified in the OT sacrifice, namely one of expiation, the removal of sin and guilt (this was the scapegoat) and propitiation, the satisfaction of God’s wrath through the sacrifice of atonement (the slaughtered lamb).  Street Sign_Propitiation_ExpiationWe noted that both of these OT concepts must be held together as they point towards the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus Christ, who both expiated the guilt and sins of His people and satisfied or propitiated the wrath of the Father in their place.

With this background laid before us, we return to our statement from John 1:29 and we find that John the Baptist is using language very similar in concept to that of expiation, or the removal of sin and guilt.  Now we must ask, given our understanding of Scripture, has Jesus Christ removed the sin and guilt from the entire world without exception?  In other words, has everyone who has ever lived or ever will live had their sin and guilt removed from them?  Did all those who lived prior to the life, death, and resurrection of Christ have their sin and guilt removed from them?  Have those who have died apart from saving faith in Christ been sent to hell unjustly, having their sin and guilt removed, yet still having to suffer in all eternity for sins from which Christ expiated?  Simply put, no.

The same author of our passage, the Apostle John, writes using similar language in 1 John 2:2, “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”  Note here a nearly identical statement, only this time the concept of propitiation is in view.  So would this particular view of all without exception fit this passage?  Well, this would leave us with a passage that resulted in every single individual person in the world having the wrath of God removed from them.  John 3:36 tells us, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.”  Contrary to this second view we are examining, John 3:36 is a prime example of how God’s wrath has not been removed from every single individual person without exception, but in fact those who do not believe Jesus is Lord and that He shed His blood on the cross of Calvary do in fact have the wrath of God remaining on them.  Consistent with this view is Ephesians 2:4, “among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”  Note here that Paul, in writing to believers, placing them, along with himself and us, in the category of children of wrath along with the rest of mankind.  Only here, Paul asserts that because of God’s mercy He has made us alive in Christ, who bore the wrath of God on our behalf.  All those who believe in Christ can trace their faith to God who has given them new life and the ability to believe (Phil. 1:29; Ephesians 2:8-10).

The conclusion of this second view, as seen from both John 1:29 and 1 John 2:2 must by necessity result in universalism, the view espoused in #1.  If every individual person has had their sin and guilt removed and the wrath of the Father satisfied in Christ on their behalf, then there simply remains no justifiable reason for the punishment of unbelievers in hell.  Most who hold to this view get around this conclusion by making a person’s faith the necessary ingredient for Christ’s saving work to take effect, but we simply do not find this corroborated in Scripture.  In fact, we find that Scripture refers to a person’s individual faith in Christ as even a gift from Him (Eph. 2:8-9; Phil 1:29).  So salvation is all of grace.  This view begs the question then, if Christ has died for every single individual’s sin and guilt, what about the sin of unbelief?

Which brings us to the third and final conclusion; the view that holds Christ’s atonement is without limit in its power, but is limited in its extent.  If this is true, what are we to make of passages such as John 1:29 and even 1 John 2:2 which would seem to extend Christ’s expiation and propitiation to the entire world, without exception.  Two clues from these passages will help our understanding of world here.  First, recall that the OT concepts from which these two passages build is in respect to the Levitical system of sacrifices established by God with Israel.  When the high priest entered into the temple to make the sacrifice on behalf of the people, it did not include all the surrounding pagan nations.  Only those who had identified with the God of Israel, through physical circumcision, whether ethnic Jew or not (see Genesis 17:10-14; Exodus 12:48; see also proselytes).  With this in mind, one can easily see how referring to Jesus as the Lamb of God might carry with it restricted language to Israel only.  Thus when we read of John the Baptist attaching the statement, “who takes away the sins of the world” his intention is not to include every individual without exception, but is intended to mean every individual without distinction.  In other words, he is expanding the OT concept of sacrifice beyond simply Israel, but now to every tongue, tribe, and nation.  Likewise, in 1 John 2:2, we see the Apostle making the qualification, “not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” thus removing the perceived strictly Jewish application and expanding it to include all nations, Jew and Gentile, whom he refers to as the whole world.

This concept can be likewise seen in John 11:49-53, “49 But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. 50 Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” 51 He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, 52 and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. 53 So from that day on they made plans to put him to death.”

Here we see the high priest Caiaphas prophesying of Christ’s death, not only for the nation of Israel, but for all the children of God scattered abroad.  His statement provides commentary on the very idea of this expansion from Israel to the “world”.

Jesus’ death on the cross absolutely accomplished all that He intended and it is not restricted in power in any sense of the word.  There was truly a transaction that took place on Calvary; real sin and guilt was removed and real wrath from God the Father was placated by the Son through His substitutionary death.  Man’s faith does not give Jesus’ death power.  It is simply the means through which God has chosen to unite His people with His Son such that they come to realize the effect of Jesus’ death on the cross.  This passage, and others, does not teach universalism, nor is it meant to be a blanket reference to all people without exception.  But as we’ve seen, it is meant to convey a powerful message that Christ is not merely the Savior of the Jews, but is in fact the Savior of the World (1 John 4:14), all nations, from whom God has sovereignly decreed to build His Church.

For more on the definite atonement of Christ see John Murray’s Redemption Accomplished Redemption Applied and John Owen’s The Death of Death in the Death of Christ.  See also the recent video debate: White vs. Brown.  Also the following link by R.C. Sproul: http://www.ligonier.org/blog/two-important-words-good-friday-expiation-and-propitiation/

Christ the Advocate – 1 John 2:1-2

8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.  But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 2 He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” 1 John 1:8-2:2

Last time we reviewed the passage of Scripture from 1 John 1:8-10 included above.  This time, we will look at how the verses from 2:1-2 connect with our previous passage.  Remember that John has just laid down a test for us, one of recognition and confession of sin.  We looked at what it means for a person to deny sin, namely self-deception and calling God a liar.  We also dissected 1 John 1:9 to better understand how God’s character is linked to His actions for believers who confess their sins, namely in the forgiveness and cleansing from sins.

John begins verse 1 by addressing his readers as “little children.”  This is the first occurrence of several instances where he uses this compassionate term.  Like a father with his children John has a way of encouraging and assuring while also offering exhortation and warning.  He clearly speaks the truth in love as a loving Father would for his children.  After all, John has assumed the position of elder in these churches and he’s likely the oldest and remaining survivor of Jesus’ disciples.  Needless to say he has a spiritual as well as physical maturity.  With this address to his readers, it’s almost as if he jumped out in chapter 1 with a quick blow to the Gnostic influences of the Church and here settles into the message of his letter.  He does this by pointing out the first, of several, reasons for writing his epistle.  The first is an exhortation to holiness, “so that you may not sin”.

In the previous 3 verses John has just delivered a test of assurance for his believers: recognize your sin and confess it.  As we previously mentioned, he ties this into Christ’s atonement (from vs. 1:5 and in vs. 1:9) and links this to the character and actions of God (vs. 1:9).  After reading the end of chapter 1, you can almost hear people clamoring with the same response that the Apostle Paul expected in his letter to the Romans, “Hooray!  We can sin all we want and as long as we confess it to God, He has to forgive it!”  To which Paul responded “By no means!  How can we who died to sin still live in it?” Romans 6:2 John’s response comes by way of giving reason for his letter, “so that you may not sin”.  This is a purposeful statement by John, not just mere sentiment.  He’s instructing them in a path of godliness and holiness and will soon outline for them (and us) the Christian’s incompatibility with sin.  It’s important to understand that John has not given his readers a pass to sin, quite the opposite, but watch the amazing direction that He takes next.  “But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”  This is a hope filled statement from John.  Imagine the churches reading this for the first time and you can almost hear the gasps and sighs of relief.  A gasp at vs. 1:8, a sigh at vs. 1:9, gasp again at vs. 1:10 and holding it in to the middle of vs. 2:1, when a divine truth is revealed through the little powerful conjunction that the ESV renders, “but”.  In a practical application of John’s letter the phrase “but if”, could nearly be replaced by “when” anyone does sin, because of the given certainty of the action.  In fact, as we will see, the very nature of Christ’s advocacy implies that believers will indeed sin.

We can best picture Christ’s role as Advocate in terms of a divine defense attorney.  Perhaps in the courtroom setting we would see God the Father as the Supreme Judge, Christ as Defense attorney, Satan as the accuser of the brethren (Rev. 12:10), and 1 by 1 persons are brought before the Judge.  Will you stand before the Judge and represent yourself?  Or will you entreat yourself to the Divine Advocate?  That is the eternal question dear reader.  Only insane, depraved people would dare stand before a holy God and plead their own case.  Yet it does not have to be that way.  The evidence is stacked against everyone: sinful by nature (Ephesians 2:1-3), guilty not merely on the basis of imputed sin (Romans 5:12-19), but on the basis of rebellion against God in breaking everyone of His righteous, holy commandments (Romans 3:10).  The Accuser standing in prosecution pointing out every vile detail, when Christ the Advocate stands in and lays His body of evidence down before the Judge on behalf of all those who have repented and placed their faith in Him.  Puritan Thomas Watson adds, “Christ by his intercession answers all bills of indictment brought in against the elect. Do what they can, sin, and then Satan, accuses believers to God, and conscience accuses them to themselves; but Christ, by his intercession, answers all these accusations.”1   It’s as if Satan would say, “See what sin he’s committed!”  And the Judge replies, “Yes, but see what my Son has done!  See His nail-scarred hands and pierced side!”  And the verdict is handed down for the believer, “Not guilty, on the basis of Jesus Christ.”  What glorious news dear Christian!

Before we move from this passage, there are two details that John has provided for us in this passage, as it relates to the Advocacy of Jesus Christ.  The first we find at the end of 2:1, “Jesus Christ the righteous”.  Certainly tied up in the name of Jesus Christ is his deity, Sonship, Lordship, and Messiahship, but look at what John adds, “the righteous.”  It is a sad fact that so many evangelical churches neglect the importance of a statement such as this and as a result, many Christians fail to understand its significance.  Just as important as Christ’s death on the cross, which all orthodox believers would agree on, was His perfectly sinless, holy, righteous life.  If the single focus of Christ’s work was His death, then certainly He could’ve come as a man and died on the cross that very same day.  But there was greater purpose.  Christ had to be born as a man, live as a man, do what man could not, namely obey the law of God, suffer as a man, and die as a man all the while His divine nature was joined together with His human nature (100%/100%).  The Apostle John points out to us that Christ’s advocacy is secured on the basis of His righteousness.  Not only that, but had Jesus merely offered forgiveness of sins and a pardon of the guilty, it would simply bring the guilty party from debt to balance.  There would still be no basis upon which to grant eternal life in the presence of Almighty God.  Thus Christ’s righteousness was needed for the believer.  This is what theologians refer to as the “Great Transaction”.  Man, guilty in his sins, has his sins “imputed”, judicially speaking credited, to the “account” of Christ, for which He takes the punishment due them, namely the wrath of God (1 Cor. 5:21; Romans 3:24-25).  The other side of the transaction involves the righteousness of Christ being imputed to believers (Romans 5:19).  The righteousness of Christ cannot be overstated.  John includes it because it is His character and he once again links character with action, as we see in vs. 2:2.

He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”  The word propitiation completes the link that John creates and is our second detail that provides the basis for Christ’s advocacy.  Propitiation is a word that has massive implications.  One in which we will look at in greater later, but for now, we will summarize by pointing out that in Christ’s death on the cross He was the One making the sacrifice and also THE Sacrifice.  It is on this basis that His advocacy took effect.  With the inclusion of Christ as the One making the sacrifice and the One being sacrificed, we can draw upon deeper meaning into His advocacy, namely His Office of High Priest (see Hebrews).

Now the question you might ask after hearing this is, “If all of our sins were forgiven, why do we need an Advocate?”  We need an Advocate because we cannot stand on our own righteousness because we have none and for that reason God always looks at believers through Christ, the Advocate. His legal brief as defense attorney is His righteousness and His propitiation (altogether His atonement).  Because of the holiness of God, He cannot look upon sinful man as forgiven and cleansed from unrighteousness except through His Son Jesus.  As Martyn Lloyd-Jones points out, “I need such a representative in the presence of God because of the holiness and the absolute righteousness and justice of God.  That is the way, and the only way, whereby any one of us can ever come into fellowship with God or can ever be maintained in that glorious fellowship.”2  Simply put, His advocacy on our behalf is eternal, as “He always lives to make intercession for us” (Heb. 7:25) and this should give all believers immense  assurance.

Before reading the next post in this series, consider the following for additional study (from 1 John 2:1-2:2):

  1. Review Hebrews, specifically chapters 6-10 which focus on the High Priestly role of Jesus and the offer of His sacrifice.
  2. Read Leviticus 16.  What parallels, if any, can  you draw between the Old Testament ‘Day of Atonement’ and the passages from Hebrews?
  3. If you previously looked up the definition for propitiation, what two significant actions from Leviticus 16 are foreshadows of Christ’s propitiation?

 

Resources:

  1. Thomas Watson Body of Divinity
  2. Martyn Lloyd-Jones Life in Christ Studies in 1 John

Test 1: Walking in the Light 1 John 1:5-7

5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 

If you haven’t yet read the previous 2 entries in our study of 1 John, Part 1 and Part 2 let me encourage you to do so before continuing in this one, that way continuity and context is maintained.  Here, in this section of John’s first chapter, we again see his eyewitness testimony, this time in the form of hearing a message from Christ and proclaiming that message to the Churches to whom he’s writing (and subsequently all believers).  His message that he’s relaying is, “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all”.  In this passage, some have pointed out that light has 2 characteristic meanings as it relates to God.  The first is that the light is life, namely eternal life.  Support for this can certainly be found in John 1:4, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men” and John 8:12 “Again, Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”  In these passages we can see the link between the light of God and the life of God.  Without going into greater detail with this possible implication of “God is light,” let’s look at the second one.

It would seem in our passage from 1 John that the more natural interpretation of “God is light” relates chiefly to the holiness of God.  In context, it seems that this is the most likely intention because it is contrasted in the same sentence with “in him is no darkness at all”.  The flow of John’s argument in the following two verses maintains this contrast of light vs. darkness as it relates to an individual’s walk or daily life.  Therefore, it seems best interpreted as a distinction between holiness and sinfulness or perhaps better stated as godliness vs. ungodliness.  This leads us to the first test that John provides which he begins with the statement, “If we say”. 

John’s test is as follows: “If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.”  The parts to this test are simple and have great implications for us today.  In his test, John outlines a common If/Then statement of logic.  If we, as professing Christians, say that we have fellowship with God, (remember we defined that fellowship last time as being adopted into the family of God, thereby having communion and a relationship with Him) yet we continue to walk in a pattern of sinfulness, then we are liars and our profession is a lie.  The application of this test to your own heart should convict you.  Are you one of the many Christians in name only who profess Christ but display no visible evidence of being in fellowship with Him?  Is your life marked by a pattern and lifestyle of sin, rather than a pursuit of holiness?  Do you detest sin and have a burning desire in your heart to love the things of God, namely His Son, His Word, and His people?  This is the test that lies before us today.  Do you fail or pass?

Not leaving us alone with just the negative implications of the test, John provides the solution for his readers in verse 7: “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.”   Here he exhorts genuine believers to walk in holiness, as God is holy, such that we have fellowship with one another and efficacy of Christ’s atoning blood sacrifice.  Working through John’s logic backwards we can see that a consequence of Christ’s atonement is cleansing from sin, fellowship in God’s family, and a life marked with holiness.  Justification, adoption, and sanctification. 

The significance of Christ’s blood here cannot be understated.  It’s not to be dismissed or classified as gruesome as so many liberal theologians are apt to do, but must be understood as necessary to bring life to the unbeliever and cleansing from sin.  The entire foreshadowing of the OT blood sacrifices is significant to the bloody death of Christ on the cross.  Hebrews 9:22 says, “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.”  This echoes the Old Testament passage “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.” Leviticus 17:11 Christ Himself emphasizes the significance of His blood as marking the establishment of His New Covenant, “for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” Matthew 26:28 and Paul points out for us in Ephesians 1:7 that “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” and again in 2:13 “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”

This is an oft-neglected and misunderstood aspect of Christ’s atonement, but as we’ve seen it’s essential, not for mystical powers as some have claimed, but for its significance of marking the New Covenant in which Christ’s atoning sacrifice brings cleansing and forgiveness of sins and thereby life to the sinner who repents and puts their faith in Him.  The test that John lays out for us in the passage should either convict or reassure the hearts and minds of those who read it.  Conviction should come to those who understand and realize that their lives are not marked with holiness nor a desire for godliness, but instead are a display of sinful patterns of behavior.  If this is you dear reader, then it is time for you to repent and turn from your sins.  Turn to Christ in faith and trust in Him for the cleansing and forgiveness of your sin.  God alone is holy and it is the righteousness of Christ that you are in need of.  Call on Him today.

Believers, this should either be a wake-up call to you or proof of the genuineness of your faith.  If you are battling besetting sins, then you need to realize that the mark of a genuine believer is walking in holiness.  As we will see in the coming verses, confession of our sins gives evidence of true salvation.  Return to God today, confess your sin, and seek a life of godliness. 

Before reading the next post in this series, consider the following for additional study (from 1 John 1:8-2:2):

  1. What is the next “test” that John offers his readers?
  2. If believers are already forgiven of their sins, past, present, and future, why does John exhort a pattern of confession (vs. 1:9)?
  3. What is the significance of Christ’s role as advocate (vs. 2:1)?
  4. Using a good Bible dictionary or commentary, define propitiation (vs. 2:2). [Note in some Bible versions this word may be translated as ‘atoning sacrifice’; the Greek word is hilasmos]